Category Archives: I am the Church

The Church is outside the walls!

15-08-23 PRAXIS - Church Unleashed.006A necessary practice that will move us beyond theory, is to take time to process how God is speaking to us (and God IS constantly speaking!) With permission, I’m sharing a story, a not unusual day in my life or the life of a pastor, but a day when God “spoke to me.” I was reminded how the church is at work “under the radar” of our usual church-growth metrics. Here is the sermon audio and the written story is below:

[Church Outside the Walls]

I walked into the wake
knowing I couldn’t stay too long
and I didn’t know the family too well.
“Thanks so much for coming, Pastor.”

This new-acquainted sister of mine is a grieving daughter today;
mourning her mother after the heavy weight of caring well;
after the all too short wait for the expected end.
“Pastor, meet my dad.”

Her father looked up with sorrowful eyes.
“Thank you for coming, Pastor,” he said
not knowing me, but so sincere.
I told her, “I can’t stay for the service, but I wanted to stop by.”

I extend hands and hugs to the row of exhausted family.
I’m a welcomed stranger touching the tender nerves of loss.
I turned to leave, 6 radiant smiles of other women from our church.
“Oh, Pastor, so glad to see you!” as though surprised.

____________

I was deeply touched by this moment.
These women have not just “stopped by.”
They’ve been here – for the duration.
They’ve been here – from the start:

Comforting;
weeping;
listening and laughing;
serving and sistering.

They meet each week – or more
Praying and learning
listening and laughing; serving and sistering.
That’s just what they do.

_______________

Now, if the grieving sister were asked later,
“Has your church been there for you?”
I’m guessing she’d say, “Oh yes! My whole band of sisters
has walked beside me every step!”

“And, by the way, a pastor called and prayed and stopped by.”
But I wonder how many scores of people felt Jesus’ touch
through these women, that day and beyond?
Precious-to-God people who may not be entering a church building any time soon?

Come to think of it, only half of these women from our church were able to be “in church” the next Sunday.
I was having a grand Epiphany! A moment of beautiful clarity.
Known well in theory; but again now in Praxis:

The Church is outside the walls – going at full speed – unleashed!
This day’s liturgy is truly “the work of the people.”
A long vigil; a Holy Day of caring.
Spontaneous worship; teaching on the run; prayer without ceasing. 

______________

Ever since the widow gave her tiny, extravagant coins;
and Lydia’s thriving purple business, financed an infant church;
and Priscilla and Aquilla, tent-makers and disciple-makers
taught young triple A Apollos more complete doctrine in their home…

The Ordinary Ministry – has been notoriously underrated;
The Body’s work – often undocumented;
at least by the “experts;”
but NOT unnoticed by Jesus, the Head.

The One who measures true “success.” 


A SUGGESTED PRAYER TO BEGIN EACH DAY:

Lord I want to be available, to be your hands and feet today;
How are you speaking to me
Where are you at work?
How do you want me to join you?

OR in the words of one of our ‘senior saints:’

“Good morning, Lord!
What are you up to today?
How can I be involved?

OR like the child Samuel (and Mary, mother of Jesus)

“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.”

Imitating Jesus’ body language

dinnerWe’ve all heard the stats – that 60-90+ percent of our communication is non-verbal! Actual words are only a part of the message we send.  Certainly Jesus relied on more than the spoken message, as vital and powerful as his teaching was!

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom’s arrival – in many ways. People were healed of disease; demons were cast out and defeated; he chose 12 to be his messengers. AND he did something else. He ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” His body talked.  In our series, “I am a Disciple,” Mark 2:13-17 tells the story of Jesus calling Levi (later ‘Matthew’) to follow Him. We called the sermon, The Eating Habits of a Disciple.

We need to see ourselves in this story in two ways:
First, we are all radically INCLUDED SINNERS. Jesus came to save sinners – like you and me! (1 Timothy 1:12-17) The religious teachers of Jesus’ day excluded most of humanity and most of their fellow Jews with their heavy load of man-made laws smothering the heart of God’s Law. So they couldn’t handle Jesus consistent choice of dinner companions. But they got it all wrong! Jesus wasn’t being soft on sin – he was strong on true repentance and healing. Jesus was the holy physician, shouting with bold compassion that “holiness is not fragile – but powerful” to transform and change broken, sinful people into his very likeness and image.

Second, Like Levi throwing a party for his tax collector buddies, we are called to be radically INCLUSIVE DISCIPLES. “Imitate me,” Jesus says to us. Make a statement by who you hang out with. I agree with Larry Crabb that the Church should be “The Safest Place on Earth” – to meet Christ and spiritual friends who help us grow from where we are, to where we are meant to be.

There is room for every kind of background and past sinful experience among members of Christ’s flock as we learn the way of repentance and renewed lives, for “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified (made whole), you were justified (made righteous) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (2 Corinthians 6:11)  This is true inclusivity.

Richard Bewes, All Souls Church, London (in Washed and Waiting p. 44)

Are there people Jesus would love to invite to dinner – who you would rather not? If so, who is in greater need of repentance?

Macro and Micro – why we need both

macro-microI don’t apologize for taking time in my preaching and teaching to give the larger story of God that we find ourselves in. The Big Picture of God’s Mission in the world (the “macro”) is essential if we are going to serve God in our local, everyday world (the “micro”). It’s not either-or, it’s both.

The July 2013 Issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR) makes the point in the editorial cover story.

The longer I follow Jesus and study Christian mission, the more sense it makes to live in light of both the big picture of the missio Dei (Mission of God) and the small, daily opportunities right in front of me. The apostle Paul conducted his missionary service this way. For example, at a particular historical moment he encouraged Gentile Christians to contribute on behalf of famine-stricken Judean believers by appealing to God’s larger purposes for Israel and the world (Rom. 15:25–27). Perhaps even more pointed is the way Jesus was ever conscious of God’s macro plan of salvation, but was all the while responsive to micro-level needs and interruptions. Just prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, knowing that “the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,” Jesus served his disciples through the menial task of washing their feet (John 13:1–5).

Jesus’ disciples heard him teach about life and about God’s macro relation to Israel and the world for three years, all the while watching him serve, perform miracles, and otherwise relate to various specific people. At their final gathering with the risen Jesus, the disciples asked him perhaps the most macro question they could muster: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). These heirs of Israel’s heritage were articulating their national longing for the restoration of King Solomon’s splendor after a millennium of division, exile, and subjugation. The macro expectation that gripped the disciples both fueled their imagination about the larger meaning of Jesus’ life and filtered their expectations for who this Nazarene was in relation to their own particular lives. It seems that we human beings inevitably carry compelling visions of deity and the world that affect how we live our daily lives.

Jesus gave his disciples a combined macro/micro answer. He noted how, on a macro level, God alone knows when and how the historical developments about which they were asking will take place. On a micro level, Jesus’s followers, empowered by the outpouring of God’s Spirit, would serve him in all sorts of situations in Jerusalem and elsewhere, events of which we learn through Christian mission history.

The undertow of almost any Christian’s sense of the missio Dei is that God has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to re-create this world that went wrong. In light of the Christ event, God’s people participate with the Holy Spirit in his mission in a myriad of micro-level situations throughout the world. Our particular Christian traditions variously depict the contours and hues of the macro missio Dei and its particular components. But no matter how we might emphasize different aspects of the big picture, we all as Jesus’ followers—mission analysts included—must engage people in micro contexts of mission. Just as Jesus focused on the people right in front of him, we all must interact with the real, live people whose concrete situations we share in life. It does no good to contemplate the vastness of the ocean of life if we neglect the immediate conditions of our own rowboats, the surrounding waves and weather, and, most important, our fellow passengers in the boat, with whom we struggle to row forward in our particular locales.

Are you and I seeing and serving the world with both the macro and the micro clearly in view?

Thinking of myself less

I just had the intense enjoyment of several days with a life-long friend and missionary. His endless stories of being available to the”Everywhere present Jesus” in-spired me! I’m again reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem ending:

Every day you have less reason
Not to give yourself away.

Mary Oliver versed it another way in a poem from Evidence, p. 39:

I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.

And in prose words, Tim Keller has a wonderful small book with a much larger title. My favorite quote:

“…The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. 

p.s. It’s 99 cents on Amazon in the Kindle ebook version. Buy it!

What’s our excuse?

Icon of John Chrysostom,
Community of Jesus, Orleans MA

Much has been said in recent years about Church worship attendance being less consistant among today’s Christians. It’s not an entirely new phenomenon. I came across these words from John Chrysostom, the greatest preacher among he church fathers, who pastored in the large city of Antioch in the 4th century:

“Still, such is the wretched disposition of the many, that after so much reading, they do not even know the names of the Books, and are not ashamed nor tremble at entering so carelessly into a place where they may hear God’s word. Yet if a harper, or dancer, or stage-player call at the city, they all run eagerly, and feel obliged to him for the call, and spend the half of an entire day attending to him alone; but when God speaks to us by the prophets and apostles, we yawn, we scratch ourselves, we are drowsy.

“And in summer, the heat seems too great, and we take ourselves to the marketplace; and again, in winter, the rain and the mire are a hindrance, and we sit at home; yet at the horse races, though there is no roof over them to keep off the wet, the greater number, while heavy rains are falling, and the wind is dashing the water into their faces, stand like madmen, caring not for the cold, and wet, and mud, and length of the way, and nothing keeps them at home, and prevents their going out.

“But here, where there are roofs over head, and where the warmth is admirable, they hold back instead of running together; and this, too, when the gain is that of their own souls. How is this tolerable, tell me?”

—John Chrysostom, On St. John, Homily LVIII, ca. A.D. 390

QUESTION: How seriously do you approach the privilege and priority of Christian worship?

Faith @ Work – some great resources

Following Christ is not a part-time job! Being a disciple of Jesus is a seven-days-a-week calling that we take with us to work and play; to family and community.  Work (or school for all you students) is a primary medium through which we offer ourselves to God!

Easier said than done!  As with all the areas of our ‘Rule of Life,’ we need the power of the Spirit and the help of the Christian community.  Here are some on-line resources. Continue reading Faith @ Work – some great resources

The Discipline of Praying for the World

How do you take seriously God’s heart for all peoples? How do I make prayer for the nations a part of my ‘Rule of Life,’ my Game Plan for being a disciple of Christ?

Many years ago, an ambitious project was started with the first edition of Operation World – A global digest of facts and prayer needs for the mission of God in each nation of the world.  It is now in its 7th edition.

There is a website of resources and links and available resources to download.  You can also connect to be part of this world wide movement of prayer.

I urge you to visit this website.  Buy the book or download the ebook version or start by receiving emails on each nation.  Let your heart be touched with Jesus’ heart for all peoples!  If you need more motivation, read this short article called Understanding Prayer in the Light of God’s Kingdom.

One other free resource, available on-line you should know about and read every other month.  It’s called Mission Frontiers, from the U.S. Center for World Mission.

Who is Scot McKnight (and why is he coming to Providence?)

We’ve talked for several years about trying to have Scot McKnight in Rhode Island.  Scot is not your celebrity type Christian rock star.  But he is making a very rock-solid  contribution to the Christian world. McKnight is New Testament prof at North Park University (connected to our Evangelical Covenant denom.) He is a prolific author of both scholarly and ‘popular’ books on NT studies and the Christian life.  His blog, Jesus Creed, is one of the best in the world at engaging important issues of faith and culture. It has a following of thoughtful and respectful commenters who work through books and questions guided by McKnight.  Scot is also a sought after speaker all over the world on subjects of Jesus, biblical interpretation, and the state of the church.  I believe he has been gifted for these times to be a uniter instead of a divider while not being afraid to challenge the evangelical status quo.

(My son, Stephen, got to know McKnight while at North Park and invited him to Providence for November 4th when learning that he was speaking at Gordon College the same week. The Lord, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, is making it happen!)

Scot’s latest book is called The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited.  In it, he challenges the church’s understanding of the Gospel and her all-too common method of sharing the faith.  Our Gospel is often a shrunken version that leads to settling for “decisions” instead of making disciples. There is a lot more!

So here are the details:
** Nov. 4th, Friday evening is The One Event.  (click here for the Facebook page) – a large gathering from churches in Providence and around the state led by Andrew Mook and Scott Axtmann with a team from Sanctuary, Renaissance Church, Christ Church and others.

**The location is Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, with parking in the Providence Place Mall. (Go to the north end mall parking garage nearest the State House and the entrance is directly across from the church.

**Scot McKnight will preach at this unified worship service  which begins at 7 pm.

**Scot has graciously agreed to meet from 4-5:30 pm with pastors and church leaders.  We have designed this session under the title: “The Original Gospel Revisited, Sharing the Good News in Today’s World” – A Discussion with Scot McKnight.  Stephen, Todd Murphy (Sacred Journey Church) and I are coordinating this event with the great help of Cassandra Chavez, staff at Gloria Dei.

**We have room for about 200 at 4 pm and 600-700 at the 7 pm service.  So come on time and be praying for the Holy Spirit to do a wonderful work of unifying and equipping us for greater Kingdom impact in our state and region!

Is the Church a Place or a People?

As we move two of our Sunday morning services to a school auditorium, a good question naturally gets raised by many?  “Aren’t we diminishing worship by not using our church building for all Sunday worship services?  Isn’t there such a thing as “sacred space?  If so, what makes it sacred?”  I understand the concerns. It is important for us to have a clear, biblical, and Christ-centered perspective on these questions.

In the early church we see believers meeting “house to house” AND having public assemblies for the reading and teaching of Scripture, prayer, and Communion (Acts 20). The settings for worship included small homes, larger homes, outdoors, rented halls, schools, and even catacombs!  Eventually, after persecution slowed, church buildings of different kinds developed.

The word for church is ekklesia – meaning “called-out assembly.”  The metaphors for the church are numerous and include God’s temple, field, flock, building, and of course, Christ’s Body.  Peter calls the church “living stones being built into a spiritual house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s possession…”  (1 Peter 2)

As one scholar notes, “Scripture gives no command as to where …believers may or may not worship.  In the Old Testament, prayer and teaching could take place anywhere, but sacrifice was restricted to the central altar in the tabernacle and the temple.  In the New Testament, Jesus removes that restriction, for he himself is our sacrifice, our priest, and our central altar. And he resides, not at some earthly location, but in heaven – and by his Spirit, in and with his people, wherever they may be.” (John 4, from Worship in Spirit and Truth, by John Frame)

So is the Church a place or a People?  The answer is clearly a People. Certainly we seek to make our places of assembly as conducive to worship as possible and I love beauty and sacred architecture as much as anyone.  But it is the People gathered in Christ’s name, in the Spirit, that make a place “sacred.” Sometimes, that means making more sacred space for more people who need the Lord, beyond what our church buildings can provide.

It’s not primarily about us – or our preferences or our comfort.  (You and I know this but we need to be reminded) It’s about Christ and His Kingdom. So let’s put our best energies into being Living Stones, the Church that Christ said He would build – that would be the unstoppable hope of the world!

‘Golden RuleS’ about Judging and Loving

If you missed the teaching on Matthew 7:1-12  let me encourage you to take a listen.  We want to be Church communities that break the stereotype of Christians being “judgmental.”  And at the same time Jesus invites us to “Come as we are,” He doesn’t leave us where we are!  We are called to discern and love and speak into one another’s lives under the guidance of the transforming Spirit of God.

The beautiful way of Jesus!   Read and listen here!